It might seem strange that a poem most emblematic of medieval Christianity, The Divine Comedy, should contain so many Arabic loan-words as well as references to Islamic intellectual life. Eastern treatises on medicine, natural science and mathematics had entered the Italian peninsula by way of Muslim Spain and Sicily, and left their fingerprints on Dante Alighieri’s great 14th century work. In the face of Islam’s rapid westward expansion, however, Dante had absorbed also a fierce dislike and incomprehension of Islam. His view of Islam portrays many of the misapprehensions of a time when the West-Orient divide had widened as a consequence of the Christian wars in the Holy Land. While Dante followed the medieval Western tradition of being bitterly opposed to Islam as a religion, he acknowledged the great debt of the West towards the Arab world. Ian Thomson shows how the author of The Divine Comedy, having been exposed to the cultural Arabia of the Mediterranean, was broad-minded enough to see in Islam more than just schism, jihad or a clash between ‘Western Civilization’ and ‘Islamic Civilization’.
In collaboration with Primo Levi Center.
Wed, 9th December – 4:00pm
The event will take place live on the Zoom platform
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